Washington State's STEM Pipeline is Broken. Here's How to Fix It.


Since the city’s emergence as a timber town in the 1850s, Seattle has established itself as a hub for creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurial spirit. Originally founded upon a hilly, narrow strip of land sandwiched between Lake Washington and the Puget Sound, savvy industrialists overcame the soggy and craggy topography hindering the city’s growth by using water cannons to carve up the soil and undertake the Seattle regrade. Using science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) to move mountains and achieve the “largest and boldest municipal regrade project in history,” the regrade was the first of many projects to solidify Seattle’s reputation as a nexus of cutting-edge technology and modes of thinking – proof that STEM skills were just as important to our region’s economic vitality then as they are today.

A Leaky STEM Pipeline

The ingenuity and resourcefulness historically inherent to Seattle’s economy has resulted in the metro area becoming one of the fastest growing regions in the nation, ranking Washington state as second in the country for job creation. At the heart of this growth is our booming tech industry, with companies like Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook and Google all having a large presence in the Seattle area.

Like the powerful streams of water harnessed to reshape the city in the 1900s, a steady flow of skilled workers has built a foundation for Seattle’s sustained growth – Washington State is the nation’s per-capita leader in STEM employment. But this foundation is at risk.

Today there are approximately 25,000 unfilled STEM jobs in Washington, and demand is expected to double by 2017. Even as the nation’s leader, Washington’s current homegrown STEM workforce simply isn’t big enough to supply skilled workers at the rate our economy requires. Further exacerbating the problem: women and people of color are significantly underrepresented.

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, women hold less than 25 percent of all STEM jobs, despite comprising over 50 percent of the workforce. Another study from Boston Consulting Group found that Blacks and Hispanics hold just 1 in 5 STEM jobs in Washington. The same study found that Washington’s STEM pipeline – from classroom to career – is “broken,” resulting in the state “missing out on creating critical middle-class jobs for all its citizens.”

Repairing the Pipeline

Foremost among organizations addressing this issue is the Washington State Opportunity Scholarship (WSOS): a virtual light at the end of the pipeline. Created in 2011 as a public-private partnership to address rising college tuition rates, the scholarship helps women and students of color from low- to middle income families attain degrees in STEM fields. More than 60 percent of scholarship recipients are women, and 52 percent of students are people of color. With donations matched dollar for dollar by the Washington State Legislature, WSOS is uniquely structured to provide one of the largest scholarships in the state – up to $22,500 over five years per recipient.

The efficacy of WSOS’s program speaks to how investments in local talent are helping fix the state’s broken STEM pipeline. Ninety percent of scholarship recipients have graduated with a STEM-related degree or committed to graduate studies, and 90 percent of all WSOS graduates are not only finding employment in their field of study, but are staying here – making this a true homegrown success.

Geeks Give Back

Bank of America has a long history of commitment supporting local organizations that focus on developing local job talent, especially for STEM careers. Over the past five years, Bank of America has provided more than $2.9 million in grants to support 171 local nonprofits providing workforce development and education, helping individuals build the skills necessary to earn higher wages and improve their financial futures. Now Bank of America is partnering with GeekWire to support the WSOS – and they’re seeking your support to make impact for students in Washington.

Join Bank of America, GeekWire and WSOS to raise funds to create and keep STEM careers in Washington. With your organization’s corporate donation and the state of Washington’s match, our goal is to raise $500,000 impacting thousands of local students. Let’s work together to help disadvantaged and under-represented students achieve their dreams, make STEM fields more equitable, and fix Washington’s leaky STEM pipeline.

To make a corporate donation today, please contact Kim Vu, Bank of America’s Corporate Social Responsibility Manager at kvu2@bankofamerica.com. Or, visit the WSOS donation page to make an individual contribution and learn more about the Washington State Opportunity Scholarship.